Email Status

Volume 28, Number 5
September/October 2012

Standards-Based Grading

New report cards aim to make mastery clear


A few years ago, it occurred to Frank Noschese, a physics teacher at John Jay High School in Westchester County, N.Y., that some of his 11th-graders were able to get A’s in his class without mastering complex concepts. They could solve exam problems that required them to plug in the right numbers but routinely missed the few questions that tested their understanding of more advanced concepts. Because Noschese’s grading system didn’t differentiate between those levels of knowledge, there was little incentive for students to focus on harder material.

Noschese wanted a method that would encourage students to move from easy concepts to hard ones and reward them for ultimately obtaining knowledge, no matter how long it took. So he designed a new grading system, inspired by the work of Robert J. Marzano and Jane E. Pollock. Now, every time ­Noschese’s students take a quiz, they don’t see one grade but three or four, each indicating whether they have demonstrated their understanding of a pertinent idea. Students who fail to grasp a concept have second and third chances to show they have finally mastered it, by retaking a quiz, conducting a lab experiment, or simply sitting with Noschese at his desk and explaining it.

Noschese is part of a growing band of individual teachers, schools, and entire districts that have put their faith in standards-based grading, an innovative, albeit complex and sometimes controversial, method that aims to make grades more meaningful. A standards-based report card contains an overall grade for each course but also indicates how well a student has mastered each of the classes’ several standards. As well, while traditional end-of-course grades are the final products of many factors, which may include quizzes, homework, behavior, and attendance, with standards-based grading nothing but mastery matters. Standards-based grades account for nonacademic elements very minimally or not at all.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


Also by this Author

    For Further Information

    For Further Information

    Always Formative

    T. R. Guskey and J. M. Bailey. Developing Standards-Based Report Cards. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2009.

    R. J. Marzano. Formative Assessment and Standards-Based Grading: Classroom Strategies That Work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree, 2009.

    K. O’Connor. A Repair Kit for Grading: Fifteen Fixes for Broken Grades. 2nd ed. Portland, OR: Pearson Assessment Training Institute, 2010.

    P. L. Scriffiny. “Seven Reasons for Standards-Based Grading.” Educational Leadership 66, no. 2 (2008): 70–74.